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Alzheimer's Disease

Dissecting Drugs for Alzheimer's Disease

12/19/2003

Question:

What types of chemicals are in the drugs Aricept, Reminyl, Exelon and the newest one in the U.S., Namenda. What are the key ingredients that make these products work in helping treat Aleheimer`s Disease?

Answer:

Aricept, Reminyl and Exelon are used to treat mild to moderate Alzheimer`s disease. Alzheimer`s disease is associated with low levels of a chemical in your brain called acetylcholine. The exact way that these medications work is unknown. However, it is believed that these medications prevent the breakdown of acetylcholine in your brain. Keeping this chemical around longer in your brain appears to help with memory and thinking. Memantine is a new medication used to treat more of the moderate to severe Alzheimer`s Disease. However, it works a little differently than the first three. Memantine (which will be marketed as Namenda) is thought to work by blocking the action of the chemical glutamate, which is involved in Alzheimer`s disease as well. Glutamate helps form brain cells and plays a role in memory and learning. However, too much glutamate can have a negative effect in the brain and cause cell damage and death thereby affecting memory and learning. Although this drug has been used alone for treating memory problems, it appears to work better when combined with one of the other three since they work differently. Karen Long, CRNP 

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Response by:

Paula K Ogrocki, PhD Paula K Ogrocki, PhD
Assistant Professor of Neurology
School of Medicine
Case Western Reserve University